After three hours of absolute chaos, the dust settled on the news that Philipe Coutinho had officially handed in a transfer request, almost immediately after Liverpool released a statement saying that he would categorically not be leaving the club this summer. Whether the club released the statement and Phil reacted, or the club knew the request was coming and got out ahead of it, we may never know. In a confused tangle of leaks, various sources reported he had handed in a written request, the club firmly denied it, and then shortly after, accepted that he had.
So after all of that, the toing and froing the coming and going, where are we actually at? What has changed? What is the situation?
Well in some respects, and truthfully in every respect that matters, absolutely nothing has changed. We knew that Coutinho wanted to leave, we knew that he wouldn’t be featuring against Watford and would probably miss the Hoffenheim game. We knew that he wanted to leave and we knew Barca wanted him. Crucially, we knew that the club’s stance was that he wasn’t going to be sold.
This is how it remains. Liverpool are firmly standing by their stance that Coutinho isn’t for sale, Coutinho still wants to leave, still has a back injury (we assume) and Barca are still sniffing around but yet to make a concrete bid anywhere near what one would imagine Liverpool’s price range to be. If Coutinho’s request is an effort to make Liverpool listen to a lower bid, then one would hope that the Anfield hierarchy holds firm. The news that the request has been rejected seems to reinforce that opinion.
So in terms of the practicalities, the status of the saga remains roughly unchanged. And yet.
Transfers like this one are ugly. They can be really ugly. With reps floating around and absolutely everybody playing dirty PR games, nobody can come out smelling of roses. For Coutinho to drop a transfer request less than 24 hours before Liverpool’s season begins does not reflect him in a good light. The club reporting they have no intention of selling a player hours before he submits a request does not look good. Barcelona’s shark-like attitude, hovering and acting as if Liverpool are being unreasonable, when in truth they themselves haven’t come close to matching Liverpool’s valuation, is beyond irritating.
We’re beyond the looking glass now. The player and his agent have talked all summer about an amicable resolution, which is now increasingly looking impossible. Whether Liverpool have been unreasonable is up for debate, whether Coutinho has been unreasonable is up for debate, but what is no longer up for debate is that the happy families, Phil is happy to stay image has been shattered, and the cutthroat nature of top level football has revealed itself.
It could well be that Coutinho is happy in Liverpool and with the club, but some combination of Liverpool’s refusal to deal, Barcelona’s insistence that they won’t come back for Phil next summer, and his agents and family’s desperation to push through the deal means that the player himself has made his position clear. He wants out and is willing to do what he has to in order to make that happen.
Does this affect whether Liverpool should sell him? In my opinion no. We should still do everything in our power to keep hold of Coutinho, whilst quietly working on other deals to replace him should Barcelona offer an unreasonable sum of money. The simple fact is that selling Coutinho in and of itself isn’t destructive to Liverpool’s season if we replace him, but if we don’t then we are in real trouble. As for the notion of keeping an unhappy player? Clubs have done it before and will do it again. We kept Suarez in the summer of 2013 after he was adamant he wanted to leave and look what happened then.
But if nothing else has changed, then certainly Liverpool fans will be looking differently at Coutinho from now on. I doubt that there will be too much in the way of resentment, and certainly, Coutinho is entitled to push for a move that would no doubt further his career. But the timing of the move is frustrating, and if Coutinho is faking injury (and the club still insist he isn’t), then that too is poor form. That said, there’s no doubt that the next time a player claims that they love the club and have no intention of leaving, we might not take it quite so seriously. And the next time that we see Phil score a goal for LFC, if indeed he stays, a little bit of joy will have been taken out of it for some.
The magic surrounding the little magician has been slightly dented, the bubble slightly burst. And even if we keep him, and he goes on to score 15/20 goals, and even if we don’t resent him for what he did today, there’s no denying that it’s sad to see.
Absolutely nothing has changed. And yet everything has.